Head of powerful Muslim order in Senegal dies

17.03.2017

The head of one of Senegal's influential Muslim orders has died after a life spent promoting an open interpretation of Islam in a region battling jihadist influence, local media reported Thursday.

Serigne Cheikh Ahmed Tidiane Sy headed the Tijaniyya, one of four Sufi brotherhoods that dominate religious life in Senegal, where around 95 percent of the population are Muslim.

Known as the "caliph" and spiritual guide of the Tijaniyya, Sy was buried on Wednesday night in Tivaouane, a stronghold of the brotherhood about 90 kilometres (56 miles) from the capital, Dakar, after dying aged 91.

Sufism is an offshoot of mainstream Islam which focuses on meditation, inner purity and finding a mystical pathway towards God.

Followers spend time studying the Koran, chanting and dancing to enter a spiritual trance.

Sy was described in a 2008 portrait by Senegal's APS news agency as "a spiritual guide who freed himself from conservatism... to struggle to give himself his own identity, one of a man of openness."

Scholars have described Sy's belief that Islam had to evolve with society as it changed, in contrast to intolerant strands of the religion that have attracted young west Africans to jihadist groups operating in Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

Followers of Salafist and Wahhabist interpretations of Islam see the Sufism popular in Senegal as heretical.

Sy's influence was such that parliamentary business was suspended and President Macky Sall was due in Tivaouane to pay his respects, along with thousands of his followers.

Various Sufi orders are active in Turkey, the Middle East and Central Asia.    (AFP)

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